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Papuan self-determination - historical roots XII
Part I Economically "worthless"?
by Arie Brand
Dr Abdoh, the Administrator of Papua during the UNTEA administration, was, as we saw, very concerned about anything that might possibly be construed as insulting to Indonesians. He showed considerably less concern about the rights of Papuans, rights the UNTEA administration was supposedly there to protect.
Under article X of the Bunker-Agreement one task of UNTEA was to inform the population on "the provisions for the act of self-determination as set out in the present Agreement" and under article XXII the UNTEA and Indonesia would "guarantee fully the rights, including the rights of free speech, freedom of movement and of assembly, of the inhabitants of the area." These rights were hardly respected during the UNTEA period and not at all after that. Therefore there was little opportunity to create widespread awareness of the terms of the agreement, particularly those in Article XVIII specifying the 'eligibility of all adults' to participate in the 'act of free choice' and the requirement that this act be carried out 'in accordance with international practice'.
How did this come about? Though the Agreement only required the replacement of top Dutch officials during the UNTEA period the great majority of Dutch civil servants had in fact disappeared. Thus the UN had to assemble a civil service apparatus at very short notice. The resulting motley collection of temporary UN-officials came from many parts of the world and in most cases they had neither much knowledge of the region nor much empathy for the drama it had been forced into. For instance in Fak-fak, where I was stationed, we had in less than half a year three different resident commissioners, two from the UK (the first one, David Somerville, was made UNTEA’s Director of Internal Affairs and was succeeded by Luckham) and one from Jamaica, plus a future Indonesian one. We had there also police inspectors from the Philippines, a future Indonesian police commissioner who quickly took over (for one thing the Filipinos didn't know a word of Indonesian and couldn't communicate with the men under them) plus other Indonesian officials and, very temporarily, a Belgian accountant. Law and order were supposed to be assured by the Police and a military contingent from Pakistan. Of the Dutch personnel only a few men of Public Works, an administrative officer and, for the field service, a colleague and myself as district officers, remained.
The only more or less coherent group in the territory was actually that of the Indonesians who soon started to occupy, during the UNTEA period, all kinds of positions in much greater numbers than was foreseen in the Agreement. Article X had spoken of Indonesian officials in a possibly supplementary role after 'as many Papuans as possible' had been 'brought into administrative and technical positions.' But those 'supplementary' people soon became a sort of parallel administration. The very active Indonesian liaison mission ('Perwakilan Republik Indonesia Semasa Untea') in erstwhile Hollandia, headed by the diplomat Sudjarwo Tjondronegoro, and the commander of the Indonesian troops, Colonel Soedarto, directed this group of Indonesians. Indonesia had demanded that the paratroopers dropped over the territory while it was still under Dutch control would remain there. Holland had acquiesced in that. Furthermore, Indonesia kept trying to increase these troop numbers during the UNTEA period. John Saltford quotes the text of a telegram, dated 12th January 1963, from the UN Administrator of the territory, the Iranian Dr Abdoh, and the Pakistani commander of the UN troops, Said, to Narasimhan, the UN Undersecretary in charge of the whole affair. They complained there that Indonesia was "trying to increase strength of troops in the territory surreptitiously' and that 'they tend to exceed permitted numbers" (Untea and UNRWI: United Nations involvement in West New Guinea during the 1960's - PhD thesis - www.papuaweb.org). Thus the 1500 men strong Pakistani UN troops were gradually probably outnumbered by the Indonesian troops.
Right from the start then Indonesia had a considerable finger in the pie in the UNTEA period and could sabotage any publicity regarding the ‘act of free choice’, or any Papuan pro independence manifestations, at will.
Another thing is coming into this. It is clear from the detailed description provided by Penders of the pre-Agreement machinations from various sides that by the time it was concluded very few people believed that, in time, Indonesia would honour the arrangements concerning the 'act of free choice' (Penders Chr (2002), The West New Guinea Debacle : Dutch Decolonisation and Indonesia, 1945 - 1962). Higgins refers to international critique of the UN ratified Agreement that can be summarized in the idea "that the UN was merely lending itself to a dishonorable settlement" (op cit p115).
The Dutch had originally wanted a plebiscite at the end of a period of UN Administration but this was unacceptable to Indonesia and under American pressure they dropped that requirement. To placate the Dutch it was arranged that Indonesia would have to prepare for the plebiscite with UN assistance. Nevertheless the Dutch remained deeply skeptical. Their Under-Secretary for Indonesian Affairs, NS Blom, pointed out at the time that arranging for a 'free choice' after a period of Indonesian rule was just a sham. Even if, in the unlikely case that the Papuans would be able to vote freely, the choice were for independence, nobody would push the Indonesians to give in (Penders op cit p362).
On the American side there was skepticism as well. Apparently McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy's special assistant for National Security Affairs, believed right from the start that as far as self-determination was concerned, Sukarno would "not stick to his part of the bargain" (Penders op cit p352). Not that this seemed to bother the Americans overmuch. The US Ambassador to the Netherlands, Rice, explained at the time that the USA "was unwilling to fight for the Papuans, as they would be unable to deal with independence anyhow" (Penders, op cit). Rostow, then a National Security Affairs adviser for Kennedy, wrote the President in October 1961 "that the US should be frank with The Hague and tell them that self determination for the "stone age" Papuans was rather meaningless" (Saltford op cit). The old disdain, the image of the Papuans as savage, illiterate 'stone age' people, played again a role here.
The skepticism about Indonesia's good faith in this matter was not misplaced. It seems pretty clear that Sukarno, who declared in May 1965 that an ‘act of free choice’ was no longer necessary because the Papuans wanted to remain with Indonesia, never meant to stick to the Agreement anyway. Two years earlier the Minister of Information, Ruslan Abdulgani, had already made, in an unusually frank moment at a dinner in Jakarta, a post-prandial declaration to foreign embassy political officers 'that Indonesia was "a little bit naughty" about the plebiscite... West Irian people would say that they did not want a referendum and, if necessary, groups would be manipulated in helping them to say this' (Chauvel and Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, The Papua Conflict: Jakarta's Perceptions and Policies, p15). Indonesia reversed its position on the 'act of free choice' again in September 1966 when it had come to the conclusion that it would be more clever to go through with it and to just make sure of the outcome.
I believe that the general skepticism about Indonesian intentions, if not the American disdain regarding the level of Papuan sophistication, had also infected many UNTEA-officials. So it could hardly be expected that a very mixed crowd of UN officials who had no previous tie with or interest in the territory and who, in many cases, were only interrupting their retirement for a short lucrative period in UN-service, would take up the cudgels for the sake of the Papuan freedom of speech and assembly.
In fact, the opposite happened. Saltford relates an incident, of which I didn't know at the time, of a Papuan, who had disturbed a number of dinner guests at the Government's hotel in Hollandia by displaying a Papuan flag and engaging in an anti-Indonesian tirade, and who was charged under Article 154 of existing Dutch law for the territory that forbade such speech about the colonial Dutch government. This was declared to be now applicable to the Indonesian government as well. How this could be rhymed with the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article XXII of the Agreement remained unexplained.
Papuans who wanted to speak out against the Indonesian presence and in favour of a genuine act of free choice had a hard time of it. If they were not charged, as happened to the unfortunate individual mentioned above, they had a good chance of being beaten up by Indonesian soldiers or some (then still) pro-Indonesian Papuans. However, the Indonesians had, after the 1st of January 2003, complete freedom to organise pro-Indonesian processions and to force the display of the Indonesian flag from every house, hut and hovel they could reach. When, however, anti-Indonesian Papuans wanted to stage a demonstration in December 1962 to commemorate the first raising of the Papuan flag one year before, Somerville, the British Director of the UNTEA-Department of Internal Affairs, forbade it because it would all end in a 'bloody riot' (Van der Veur PW 1964, 'The United Nations in West Irian: A critique', International Organization 18 p70-1). Saltford found evidence that a threat by the Indonesian troop commander was at the background of this.
Another incident related by Van der Veur is equally characteristic. The Regional Council of Biak-Noemfoor came up with a Resolution in December 1962 that urged strongly that the ‘act of free choice’ would indeed be implemented. Under pressure from local Indonesian officials this Resolution was, after several redrafts, miraculously transformed into a declaration of loyalty to Indonesia ‘sepenuh keichlasan dan ketulusan hati’ (‘with great honesty and sincerity’). Ruslan Abdulgani’s statement that ‘groups would be manipulated’ to say the things Indonesia wanted to hear was indeed not a hollow boast.
The remarkable thing was that in spite of all their concern with the distribution of Indonesian flags, the organisation of pro-Indonesian processions, and the drafting of declarations made ‘with great honesty and sincerity’, the Indonesians did, right from the start, actually very little to ensure the loyalty of Papuans.
On the contrary. Eliezer Bonay, the Papuan chosen by the Indonesians as their first Governor of the region (and no doubt initially regarded as solidly ‘pro-Indonesian’) is perhaps the best witness here. In an interview given in 1981 (he was in exile then) he declared:
As soon as the Indonesians arrived in our country, totally unexpected things began to happen. There were numerous brutalities, theft, torture, maltreatment, many things that had not happened before … When the Indonesians came, they took literally everything … even air conditioners firmly installed in walls. All of them, officials and soldiers, behaved in the same way. Our people looked on, and laughed to themselves, thinking: “Is this how they are going to run things here, taking down mirrors, wallfixtures, dismantling everything and taking them away? (Budiardjo, C. & Liem Soei Liong (1983) West Papua; The obliteration of a people, London: Tapol pp27-28).
To be continued